I watched the video of the homeless man being interviewed. He was dark and well-spoken and decently dressed and had normal mannerisms, so I decided to believe him when he said he was once a millionaire with two homes and a nice boat. He said he’d worked for a defense contractor. He said he retired at 47 because he got sick and he had a lot of money saved, so there was no reason to keep on working. So he decided to get it over with and retire early while he could. While his health was still good enough to enjoy his money and his retirement.
He said after he retired the financial crisis hit. He said it affected all his investments and savings. He said the financial institution where where kept all his money collapsed, leaving him with nothing. Before he knew it he was selling his homes and boat and he found himself in debts that he couldn’t pay off. And he’d retired so he was left without a job anymore and without any more savings or investments to pay off his homes and boat.
I decided to believe it all. And I decided to believe that after he lost everything, he moved in with his elderly father. I decided to believe that his elderly father got really sick and the medical expenses piled up so that when his father died, he owed a lot of money. His father owed so much that, after he died, they took his house, leaving his son homeless.
I decided to believe it when he said, as a homeless person, he got vouchers for subsidized living for the poor. I decided to believe when he said it was really hard finding that kind of living for a person like him – a homeless man with dogs. I decided to be skeptical when he said the only slumlord he could find to accept him and his vouchers and his dogs lied and kicked him out after two weeks for no good reason. I decided to be skeptical and imagined there was some reason, most likely somewhere between being a good and a no-good one.
He explained how it would be easier to get into an apartment or house if he didn’t have his dogs. He said he knew having the foundation of a real living space would be a necessary condition for ever getting himself permanently off the streets.
He said lots of people told him if he was ever going to get off the streets, he’d have to give up his dogs. But he said he couldn’t, so he’d resigned himself to the streets.
I could imagine how a guy like that wasn’t left with much but his dogs. I could imagine his dogs were about all he had. Dogs, unlike most people, that had stuck by him through the ultra-thin times. There’s a nobility to the commitment and devotion. But there’s also that too common thing about using a virtuous sentiment as an excuse for being too dumb or lazy to do what truly needs to be done.
In the next video, a 35-year-old guy explained how he was addicted to heroin, and that’s what kept him on the streets. He said he presently liked heroin too much to give it up. He said he understood how the deal worked and he accepted the bargain: his addiction in exchange for any semblance of a normal life. He said he loved the feeling heroin gave him. He said he loved it enough that it made living on the streets okay. He said it was up to him to kick the habit. He said it was on him that he was living on the streets in rags. He said if things were ever going to change, that change would be on him too. He said he wasn’t gonna blame it on anybody or anything, like a lack of moral support or social services to help him get clean.
With this guy there was no moralizing, unless his was some sort of cunning reverse-moralizing or brilliant fork tongued virtue that faked me out of my shorts. With him there was no excuse making. There was no noble cause or sentiment to counterbalance or justify his objectively shitty situation. For him, there was no greyzone of a virtuous commitment and a feeble excuse. It didn’t seem like he understood any reason for people to feel sorry or feel sympathy or empathy for him. He didn’t seem to be playing the card that underneath his predicament, he was anything but weak. It didn’t feel like there was much of an attempt to weave a narrative into his shitty circumstance that underneath it all it was a heart of gold that was keeping him in the gutter. No. For him there wasn’t a heart of gold or moral sentiments, there was only the heroin and his weakness for it.
The guy with the heroin addiction appeared to be dressed in rags. And his hair looked greasy and his glasses looked cheap, utilitarian and, consequently, out of style (except for the crowd whose style is to be out of contemporary style). This guy with the heroin addiction didn’t mention anything about ever being a millionaire or ever having multiple homes or a boat. Maybe he wasn’t smart enough for all that. You’ve probably got to have some intelligence to work for a defense contractor that pays you enough for all that stuff.
So maybe he wasn’t smart enough for that, but he seemed smart enough to see through and past and then, maybe, to have dispensed with most of his own bullshit. And maybe there’s a profounder intelligence in that than what it takes to make and then lose millions of dollars.
It made me think if either of those guys had a chance, it was probably the one who accepted himself and his predicament for what it was, since it’s easier to get to the heart of your problems without the fortification of a lot of the bullshit of your own making to keep your problems safe. Knocking down the walls of your own bullshit can be a lot like escaping from Alcatraz. It’s so goddamned hard that most folks don’t even try. Shit, it’s hard and risky enough drilling through the concrete and digging a tunnel, let alone risking your life crossing the bay once you’ve escaped its walls.
I couldn’t help but suspect the guy with the dogs will always find another reason for finding another dog. Or some other noble commitment or cause that ultimately keeps him from moving forward. Maybe somebody ought to advise him to give up his dogs so he can get his shit together. And then, when he does, spend the rest of his life rescuing far more dogs than he presently can or will living on the streets. I imagined somebody telling him that. Then I realized, if he was a guy that once had a boat and two homes and millions of dollars, he wasn’t so fucking dumb as to not know that already.
I couldn’t help but imagine that, like people, there’s never a shortage of stray dogs in need of kindness, sympathy and assistance. I probably shouldn’t think out of my ass about things I know nothing about, like homelessness. Thankfully, I’ve never been homeless. But I can’t imagine that the bullshit that keeps us stuck applies to most everybody, regardless of where or how they live.
The guy with the heroin addiction may not have much going for him. Still, he’s an example. An example of how we ought to try to be, even in the worst of times. Even in the shittiest of circumstance, he appeared to be trying to be truthful with himself about himself. He appeared to be trying to keep it real. Obviously, he might be bullshitting me as well as himself with all his “truths” about his situation. After all, the results between him and the ex-millionaire are pretty similar. But, in some sense, at least he knows. He knows what he is and what’s gotten him where he is. And it’s at least close to the surface, not buried deep down inside, beneath layers of pretenses and excuses as solid as bedrock.
At least the heroin addict knows and he puts his shortcomings before himself instead of dressing it up as the consequence of some petty virtue. And his knowing, if nothing else, seems to be the biggest part of ever moving forward.